Ruggero Leoncavallo is no one-hit wonder, even if most opera houses perform only Pagliacci: his Zazà has been successfully revived and La Bohème was by some early critics found to be superior to Puccini’s opera of the same title. Despite his success as an operatic composer, however, we still know relatively little about Leoncavallo. Only now, for instance, one hundred years after his death, is his magnum opus available in a critical edition, co-published by Bärenreiter and Leoncavallo’s primary publisher, Sonzogno. When I began work on this edition in 2014, I quickly realized that Leoncavallo’s biography up to Pagliacci was both poorly covered and often misunderstood, in part because most biographers have relied on the so-called Appunti, an incomplete eightypage autobiography the composer dictated in 1915 to a journalist working for Sonzogno’s daily Il secolo. To put the Appunti in context, I first and foremost needed Leoncavallo’s correspondence, especially that with Edoardo Sonzogno. Scholars had for some time enjoyed access to the autograph letters through the Fondo Leoncavallo at the Biblioteca Cantonale Ticinese, but, as its director, Lorenza Guiot, quickly pointed out to me, Sonzogno’s handwriting is exceedingly difficult to read, and the letters therefore were used only in short, decipherable excerpts. She added, however, that I should be in touch with Francesco Braghetta, who was in the process of transcribing these letters. I wanted to do my own transcriptions but then contacted Mr. Braghetta to ask whether we might compare our work. And so began an exchange from which I have benefitted greatly and for which I am very grateful.
I soon learned that Mr. Braghetta’s collection of letters was to include not only the correspondence with Sonzogno but also the correspondence with other significant figures in the composer’s life, each accessible via a distinct link: Francesco Finelli de Valletta (an important contact during Leoncavallo’s Paris years), Luigi Illica (librettist of an unfinished opera, Avemaria), Gualtiero Belvederi (librettist of Goffredo Mameli and lifelong friend), Maurice Vaucaire (a writer with whom Leoncavallo planned several projects), Giovanni Pennacchio (who composed Redenzione to Leoncavallo’s libretto and completed Leoncavallo’s mysterious Edipo re), Achille Tedeschi (publisher of the revised Chatterton), his wife, Berthe, and “Various Addressees.” The focus is on the letters from Leoncavallo, but the epistolario also includes numerous ones to Leoncavallo (in two appendices) and occasional ones about Leoncavallo.
The bulk of Leoncavallo’s epistolario is now available on this site in an expert edition, fully searchable and richly annotated. Any future biographical effort will surely have to begin with this magnificent collection. Yet, as we all know, a project of this kind is never truly complete. Especially the transcription of the letters from Sonzogno to Leoncavallo (in Appendix I) is occasionally still conjectural or incomplete--in other words, a work in progress. Furthermore, it is likely that additional letters will come to light, and anyone with any knowledge of such letters is kindly asked to facilitate their inclusion on this site by contacting the editor.
Louise and Kenneth L. Kinney Professor of Opera
Professor of Musicology
283 Music and Dramatic Arts
Louisiana State University
School of Music
Baton Rouge, LA 70803